City of Portland Will Divest all Corporate Securities & Consider a Public Bank

April 13, 2017

By Ted Gleichman

In a local political shocker, the Portland City Council, deeply divided, has voted to divest all corporate securities from its investment portfolio.  A majority also said they will consider creating a public bank.  This surprise turn to a decade of arguments over corporate behavior and city investments came at the end of a four-hour public hearing April 5.Raging Grannies singing testimony to Portland City Council

 Raging Grannies sing their testimony to Portland City Council. Credit: Ted Gleichman

The city commissioners had wrestled for years with ruling on which companies should or should not be able to use cash owned by the people of Portland.  In the end, they voted 3-2, over strong opposition from new mayor Ted Wheeler, to eliminate all corporate securities from the city’s portfolio, which approaches some $2 billion.  Currently, $539 million of that is invested in corporate bonds and commercial paper.   These funds will be moved into non-corporate investments (generally, government bonds) as each specific corporate security reaches its maturity date or can be redeemed early for greater profit.

Long term, the most important piece of the dramatic meeting may turn out be an informal commitment by a majority of the commissioners to consider creating a city-owned bank, as the vehicle to manage the city’s portfolio.  If that happens, the City of Portland would join the State of North Dakota as owners of the only public banks in the U.S.

The April 5 decision came through the approval of the city’s 2017 investment policy, a document required annually under Oregon law.  In past years, up to 35% of city funds could be invested in top-quality corporate securities, with current specific exclusions on a “Do-Not-Buy List” as a result of earlier battles: Walmart, and the Carbon Underground 200 list of the largest publicly-owned fossil fuels companies globally, 100 coal and 100 oil and gas, all ranked by the size of their proven reserves – a “keep it in the ground” tool.

Fracking Rig-BLM-wind_river-small format

Fracking on public land in Wyoming.
Credit: Pinedale BLM Field Office, Wikimedia  Commons public domain

In 2013, as divestment battles from many perspectives heated up, the city council created the Temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee (SRI) to advise them.  In 2014, they recreated it without the “Temporary” label.  The new SRI committee, in a remarkable document, recommended in September 2016 that as many as ten companies should be kept on or added to the Do-Not-Buy List.  The proposed additions were Wells Fargo, Caterpillar, Nestle, Amazon, and five other global banks.  After a difficult hearing in December, the then-council imposed a four-month moratorium on any new purchases and directed City Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman to come up with a new policy for 2017, taking everything into account.

The treasurer’s proposed policy essentially ignored the SRI recommendations, and about 150 activists showed up on April 5; 40 testified.  No one supported the treasurer’s recommendations; the corporations singled out most often in the testimony as “the worst of the worst” were Caterpillar and Wells Fargo.  Oregon Sierra Club added its voice to the process; Beyond Gas & Oil Team chair Gregory Monahan and I called for a commitment to SRI and transparency, based on the critical importance of environmental justice in Sierra Club.

Then Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the longest-serving member of the city council, startled the room by proposing an amendment prohibiting any new corporate investments.  Commissioner Saltzman said he was deeply frustrated about the amount of time these debates took away from other work every year, and wanted them over.

Treasurer Cooperman said that decision would cost the city from $3-$5 million a year in lost profits.  That was a key factor in opposition to the amendment by Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  The mayor also made a strong statement opposing divestment on principle, with a lot of detail about his six years as state treasurer.  Nonetheless, the Saltzman amendment passed with support from Commissioners Nick Fish and the newly-elected Chloe Eudaly.  The council then unanimously approved the revised policy, putting the city in compliance with the state requirement.

Most of the activists in the room were shocked; none of the leaders of the environmental and faith organizations present had predicted this.  One local divestment leader told me that she didn’t see it as a win, “because now we can’t call out the worst corporations by name.”  Others (including me) felt that a general policy against corporate investing sends a strong positive message on our city’s priorities.

Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners Fish and Eudaly all responded positively to testimony advocating for a public bank, and it’s clear that idea is going get more attention.  Commissioner Eudaly said she and her staff are preparing a report evaluating the options.

The new divestment policy is not a fire sale; corporate securities will leave the portfolio when the treasurer deems the time is right, not overnight.  On the current schedule, the final piece of Portland’s corporate portfolio is a $10 million Wells Fargo security that will pay the city 2.15% profit when it comes due in December 2019.

Dakota_Access_Pipe_Line,_Central_Iowa

Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa. Credit: Carl Wycoff, Creative Commons 2.0

Currently, Wells Fargo – a key financier of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines – is Portland’s top corporate issuer, with almost $78 million in holdings.

Ted Gleichman serves as policy advisor with the Chapter’s Beyond Gas & Oil Team


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

April 12, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

 

Save the Date:

We just got news that the Oregon Public Utility Commission is going to hold a public hearing on PGE’s energy plan on the evening of Monday May 15th at the Portland Building.  The time is TBD, but very likely in the evening.  

They are holding this hearing specifically so that they can hear the public’s testimony. 

Please save the date and keep an eye out for details & ways that you can help make this a success!  

Keep the Frack Out: Clean Energy for Oregon! 

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions


Update on the Campaign to Block the Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

April 12, 2017

Kalama_kids.jpgIf built, this project would increase fracked gas use by 30% in WA State, entail building new gas pipelines emit over a million tons of new climate pollution per year, drain five million gallons of water per day from the Columbia and Kalama River aquifers, store 72 million gallons of flammable, toxic methanol on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake.

Want to find out more and get involved? Come to this informational forum!

Event Name: Explained: Climate Impacts From the Worlds’ Largest Methanol Refinery

Event Description: A presentation by Sightline Institute’s Tarika Powell on climate, fracking, and the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in the nearby town of Kalama, Washington. Click here for event agenda. More details about the event are available here.

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:00-8:30 pm

Where: Central Lutheran Church sanctuary 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

On April 29th, we will hold a People’s Climate Boat Parade on the Columbia River, pulling media attention to this project. This will be preceded by a rally and followed by a comprehensive activist training.

One Page Flier for the April 29th Activities

The Cowlitz Canoe Family will be preforming an action at this rally. They invite all canoe families to participate in this event to protest the proposed development of dirty fossil fuel development in Southwest Washington including a proposed project that would build the WORLD’s largest methanol gas refinery in Kalama, WA. they are calling on all indigenous people and allies to act in solidarity with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in opposing these projects.

Fishing boat parade on the Columbia River. Participate from shore at the Port of Kalama marina or sign up to join with your fishing boat!

Saturday, April 29, 2017  10:30 – 11:30 am

Port of Kalama

Attend workshops about effective involvement in your community’s campaign against the coal, oil, and methanol terminals.

Saturday, April 29, 2017  Lunch: noon – 1 pm;  Workshops: 1 – 4 pm

Kalama Community Center

RSVP:Email Landownersandcitizens@gmail.com and RSVP to attend. Be sure to include the following information:

o Your name and phone number

o If you can bring a fishing boat

o If you plan to attend Part One, Part Two or both

o If you need a ride from Vancouver or Longview

o Tell us if you would like to volunteer before April 29th to help make this event a success!


Update: Six weeks into the 2017 Oregon Legislative session

March 22, 2017

By Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director

As predicted in last month’s legislative preview, it’s been a challenging session in the 2017 Oregon Legislature. After several sessions with some real environmental accomplishments (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Right now, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee are jointly looking at what might be the best solution for Oregon to create clean energy jobs and hold polluters accountable. The primary contenders so far are Senate Bill 557 and Senate Bill 748, and the committees are holding weekly workgroup meetings to investigate the policies reflected in those bills. You can help move them forward by contacting your legislator and tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Another climate policy we’ve been spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met. We have bills in both chambers – House Bill 3343 and Senate Bill 1007 – and we hope to be having a hearing on them in early April.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. Senate Bill 847 – a Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session – could be a part of that solution. That bill had its first hearing on March 20 and we are hopeful that it will move forward.

We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. House Bill 3344 will make it more difficult to site oil train terminals here. Both bills had their initial public hearings in mid-March and we are awaiting further action on them soon.

A bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters is making progress in the legislature. Senate Bill 3 is moving through the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee now and we are confident that it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon.

Another bill of interest is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. There is currently no fracking happening in Oregon and we’d like to keep it that way, so we’re pushing to move that bill forward in the House Energy and Environment committee.

Finally, on proactive legislation, we are supporting Senate Bill 1008, which will create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. The bill had a public hearing in early March and we are monitoring its progress closely. In addition to getting dirty diesel out of our air, it will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state.

One bright note from the session is that we have had to play less defense and fight off fewer bad bills than we often have to do. There have been attempts to roll back public lands protections and to take aim at wolves and cougars. But for the most part, the same dynamic that is keeping some “controversial” bills that we like from getting much traction is also keeping the bad bills at bay!

So, as expected, the 2017 session has had both hazards and opportunities, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

March 21, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions


Update on the Campaign to Block the Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

March 21, 2017

Kalama_kids.jpg

Cowlitz County has approved a permit for the world’s largest gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama, WA on the Columbia River, thirty-seven miles from Portland. The Department of Ecology has an opportunity to overturn this permit, and stop the project. A Chinese government corporation, Northwest Innovation Works LLC, plans to exploit inexpensive fracked gas and water prices to make methanol for plastic production.

If built, this project would increase fracked gas use by 30% in WA State, entail building new gas pipelines emit over a million tons of new climate pollution per year, drain five million gallons of water per day from the Columbia and Kalama River aquifers, store 72 million gallons of flammable, toxic methanol on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake.

Please sign this petitionasking the Department of Ecology to do the right thing!

Want to find out more and get involved? Come to this informational forum!

Event Name: Explained: Climate Impacts From the Worlds’ Largest Methanol Refinery

Event Description: A presentation by Sightline Institute’s Tarika Powell on climate, fracking, and the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in the nearby town of Kalama, Washington. Click here for event agenda. More details about the event are available here.

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:00-8:30 pm

Where: Central Lutheran Church sanctuary 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

On April 29th, we will hold a People’s Climate Boat Parade on the Columbia River, pulling media attention to this project. This will be preceded by a rally and followed by a comprehensive activist training.

Fishing boat parade on the Columbia River. Participate from shore at the Port of Kalama marina or sign up to join with your fishing boat!
Saturday, April 29, 2017  10:30 – 11:30 am
Port of Kalama
Attend workshops about effective involvement in your community’s campaign against the coal, oil, and methanol terminals.
Saturday, April 29, 2017  Lunch: noon – 1 pm;  Workshops: 1 – 4 pm
Kalama Community Center
RSVP:Email Landownersandcitizens@gmail.com and RSVP to attend. Be sure to include the following information:
o Your name and phone number
o If you can bring a fishing boat
o If you plan to attend Part One, Part Two or both
o If you need a ride from Vancouver or Longview
o Tell us if you would like to volunteer before April 29th to help make this event a success!


Comment Toolkit: Stop PGE’s Fracked Gas Plans

February 27, 2017

Thank you for helping us transition to 100% clean renewable energy by stopping  Portland General Electric’s plans to build two new gas-fired power plants in Boardman, OR.

wind-and-solar_large

Clicking on the links below will bring up a .pdf document in your web browser which you can either print or download.

Comment cards to submit to the Public Utility Commission

Talking Points to guide your conversations with friends, family and neighbors, when asking them to fill out a comment card

Tips and Tricks for gathering comment cards

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or if you  need any support for gathering comment cards.

Thank you in advance for helping us create a CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE. Your participation will make a difference.

 

Gregory Monahan, (gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org)

Chair, Oregon Beyond Gas & Oil Campaign